AGE OF INNOCENCE
How to create Valentine's memories kids will love
By Lesley Sauls
Copley News Service
Mid-February has celebrated both fertility and romance for 2,000 years, but Valentine's Day has only been considered a holiday for children in the recent past. Many children now learn the traditions of the holiday as early as preschool broadening, which makes ageless fun for everyone.
A decorated shoe box stuffed with humorous cards and a few small candies has been a typical American elementary school experience for the last 50 years. During that time, busy lives, multiple children and exposure to media have forced an evolution from simple, homemade salutations into store-bought squares printed with SpongeBob and Strawberry Shortcake. But there is still room for old-fashioned paper hearts, stickers, lace and glue.
Steve Langhorst, principal of Bierbaum Accelerated School in St. Louis, says that parents should use discretion in recognizing Valentine's Day with their children. Instead of focusing on adult romantic love, they might take this opportunity to reinforce the qualities of friendship and caring in their children. At school, he likes it best when he sees children passing out personally created cards with an exchange of kind greetings.
Says Langhorst, "The messages we do encourage revolve around friendship, not love, but still being kind and nice to all."
So, what about creating a custom card? They don't look as fancy, and they aren't always perfect, but they can be simple to make. A paper heart makes a happy face with an upside down heart sticker as a perky nose and one right side up for a sweet smile. Glue on two googly eyes, and it's a valentine to share. The Web site www.familyfun.com has lots of simple ideas that are easy to make and encourage quality family time that can be squeezed into a busy schedule. If you start on the project in January, the creation, dedications and signatures can happen a few at a time and remain a fun after-dinner activity instead of a rushed obligation.
In addition to exchanging valentine cards, many schools have classroom parties or special snacks to share. Kady Carroll, a Canadian mother of three who is experienced with treat creativity, suggests dipping marshmallows on craft sticks in melted chocolate and then pink sprinkles.
"Arrange the sticks in a vase of crumpled tissue paper, and offer a bouquet of sweets to the class!" says Carroll.
At home, too, Valentine's Day can be a special celebration of family love and appreciation. Start the day off with a red and pink valentine breakfast. Red food coloring added to milk, oatmeal or scrambled eggs will make your little valentines smile. Decorate a bowl of pink yogurt with sliced strawberries that look like little red hearts. For a mid-day surprise, slip secret notes into lunch bags with heart-shaped sandwiches. At dinner, create a valentine pizza together. Shape the dough into a heart, and let the children pile on their favorite toppings.
For a sweeter activity, roll out the dough. Store-bought cookie dough bakes up as well as scratch, and decorating cookies with the kids can brighten up a frosty February weekend. Pink, white and red frostings can be slathered on heart-shaped cookies and decorated with red hot candies, conversation hearts, fancy frosting shapes, words and candy sprinkles. Decorate a box for the confections with paper, markers and stickers, and a heart-felt gift is ready to share.
Craft stores, supermarkets and greeting card companies tempt romantics with projects, treats and communiques for all ages. It is the one time of year when we freely express love and affection, and even children are in search of the perfect way to convey their sweet message. When asked what kind of valentine the average child would prefer to receive, 9-year-old Elijah McCarty responds with a blush and a shrug, "I guess it would depend on who it's from."
That message remains ageless the world over: It's about who you fancy. The rest is just delicious, pretty and fun.
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To create valentine fun all day long and bring the magic of friendship and love into your life:
- Make a treasure hunt with clues written on paper hearts for your valentine to sleuth out.
- Take a tulip, valentine or baked goods to someone who is alone on this day and remind yourself and your children of the loving spirit this holiday celebrates.
- Bake a heart-shaped cake and pile on the frosting.
- Send photo valentines to loved ones who are far away - this might be a great time to make up for belated holiday greetings that just didn't get done in December!
- Have a candlelight dinner for the entire family and tell stories about how friends and loved ones came to be cherished in your life.
- Write down ways to help others on paper hearts and put them in a jar. For the weeks following Valentine's Day, pull out a heart and implement the suggestion: Clean a playground, visit a nursing home or cook for a local shelter. Spread the love of the season.
- Celebrate Valentine's Day all week by dedicating each day to a different family member. On Johnnie's day, carry him piggyback downstairs to breakfast and let him choose a special after-school activity. Suzie might get to choose what the family will have for dinner and plan an outing. Let children decide what special things to do for Mom and Dad on their honored days.
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